Can Onions Cause Inflammation?

Can onions cause inflammation?

For many people, onions can be a nightmare! But what about onions and inflammation?!


Can onions cause inflammation?


I mean, they make us smell, give us bad breath, make us cry, give us sore eyes and make some of us sneeze.


So they inflict misery on us.

But for most of us, this is minor, isn’t it?

And even though they inflict this misery, removing onions from our diet isn’t on the cards!

Removing onions from our diet would be difficult, wouldn’t it? 

Not only are they delicious, but they’re also a staple. 

They’re a part of most recipes!

But should onions be avoided if you have an issue with inflammation?


Well, let me answer this for you.


Onions are classed as being an anti-inflammatory food. 

So technically onions do not cause inflammation.


But onions do get a bad name and can be problematic for lots of people. 

And in this post, I will be giving you information as to why people point the finger at onions. 


So by the end of this post, you’ll know why onions have such a bad reputation.  


But before we get into the onion nitty-gritty, let’s talk about inflammation!


1)  What is inflammation?

Inflammation is your body’s way of trying to get rid of stuff.

Inflammation is felt by experiencing pain, swelling, burning or redness!

And that’s strange, isn’t it? 

Why on earth would your body inflict pain on you for trying to remove something from your body.  It should be removed nicely, and with care!  


Well, unfortunately, this isn’t the case and you can thank your immune system for that. 


Your pain is in response to your immune system.  


But you must understand that your immune system means you no harm.  


It’s helping you!  


But to help, your body must produce substances in response to your immune system.  

In your body, these are substances that unfortunately cause inflammation.


What are inflammatory substances?

So you know that your immune system produces substances when it’s working hard to protect you. But what are these substances?

The substances your body produces are called cytokines or pro-inflammatory cytokines. 

And cytokines are the cause of pain, swelling, redness and burning symptoms that sufferers of inflammatory diseases experience.  

Examples of inflammatory diseases are people who may suffer from arthritis,  autoimmune diseases,  high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  [1]1

Now although your immune system means you know harm. 

At times, it feels like it does, doesn’t it? 

Especially if you suffer from an illness that causes you to constantly respond to these substances. 

And due to this people who suffer from illnesses that have constant inflammation will seek activities  to reduce inflammatory symptoms


What do people do to not experience inflammation?

So what can people do to shut down inflammatory substances? 

Well, the one option is to take NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, an example of this would be ibuprofen.  

Another way of doing this would be to look at lifestyle choices.  

For example, stress can be a cause.  Stress can trigger the immune system. So finding ways of managing stress using exercise and relaxation techniques can be huge ways of managing inflammatory substances.

And another way of managing these substances is by using food.  


There are many foods that are classed as anti-inflammatory foods. 


Lots of people avoid certain foods as they believe these foods are spiking inflammation in their bodies.  


And this is where we’ll talk further about onions.  

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Onions unfortunately get a bad wrap.  


Earlier I explained that onions aren’t classed as being inflammatory.  


But many people swear that onions cause lots of issues. 


And next, I’ll be explaining why! 


And hopefully, I’ll change your views on onions.  



So next I’ll explain why people fear the onion!!




2) Why do people think onions cause inflammation?

So you’ve got to feel a little sorry for the poor onion.  

The poor onion has developed a bad name!  

They cause us to smell.  Make us cry. Cause some wind issues in some of us. And some of us experience stomach bloating and tenderness after eating them.


And that’s why when it comes to inflammation many people will avoid them.  


But like I said earlier, onions are classed as being an anti-inflammatory food.  


So maybe it’s time we stop giving the poor onion a hard time.  


Onions are good for us!


So if they’re not responsible for inflammation.  


Why or why do people think onions are so bad. 


Well here’s why… 


Ready, here goes


      • Digestion Issues
      • High FODMAPs food 
      • Acidic 
      • Intolerances and sensitivities


1) Onions cause digestion issues!


Some people have a hard time breaking down the compounds in onions. 

This is classed as having an intolerance to onions. 

When this happens it can cause a person to experience digestive issues like bloating and stomach pains. 


This is particularly common in people who suffer from IBS or other digestive disorders as they find onions (especially raw onions) difficult to digest.


2) Onions are a High FODMAPs food.

Onions are classed as being a high FODMAPs food.  


FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligo, Di, Mono-saccharides, And Polyols.  

A mouthful?! 

Yes, I agree!! 


And as well as being a mouthful, FODMAPs can be troublesome for many people. 

Due to this a low FODMAPs diet is recommended for people who struggle to digest certain foods.


Can you eat onions on a low FODMAP’s diet?

Ok, just to confuse you! 

So usually if something is on the naughty or bad list we would normally exclude it, wouldn’t we?




Well, this isn’t the case for the FODMAPs diet.  


Onions are on the high FODMAPs list.

But this doesn’t mean onions have to be excluded. 


You can still eat them!  


Let me explain why!


So yes, you can still eat onions. 


And here’s why…


Eating onions with a low FODMAPs food like spinach will possibly not produce any issues.  [Note: I say possibly because this isn’t the case for everyone!]


So that’s ok.  As it’s one high FODMAPs food and one low FODMAPs food.


But eating onions and spinach as part of a meal that includes other high FODMAPs food will most likely produce symptoms.  


For example, let’s say you had onions and spinach and also added brussels sprouts, chickpeas and a glass of milk as part of the meal.  


Then this wouldn’t be ok.  


As the spinach would be classed as a low FODMAPs food.  But, the onions, brussel sprouts, chickpeas and milk are all high FODMAPs foods.


That wouldn’t be ok!  And will most likely produce symptoms.


So instead of excluding onions,  you have to be extremely selective with how you combine them with other foods.




3) What is an alkaline diet?

Many people follow a diet called the Alkaline Diet. 

The aim of the alkaline diet is to eat high amounts of alkaline foods and low amounts of acidic foods. 

All foods have a ph level. 

Foods lower than a ph level of 7 are classed as being acidic. 

Foods that have a ph level higher than 7 are alkaline.  


An alkaline diet is said to help ward off the development of diseases. 

And not only that, an alkaline diet can be very beneficial as it promotes eating healthy foods.

This is due to the diet mainly being made up of fruits and vegetables which are beneficial for our health. 


The opposite of an alkaline diet is an acidic diet


A diet high in acidic foods is said to promote issues with digestion, hormones, stress and bone health.

And it’s also said to play a part in the development of more serious health issues.


Eating a diet high in acid foods can cause acidosis. 

When you’re in an acidosis state your body will do its best to create balance.  To do so it calls upon substances that are more alkaline and unfortunately these are usually vital minerals, such as calcium.  


For example, if calcium is needed and your diet is low in calcium foods it must be taken from somewhere. 

And that somewhere will be a place where calcium is stored. 


Our bones! 


This leeching of calcium wouldn’t be helpful for sufferers of bone, muscle and joint-related conditions.  Calcium is a much-needed mineral for sufferers of these conditions! So I’m sure you can see the benefits of an alkaline diet!


But what about onions, are they acidic, as well?!


Are onions acidic?

So another reason why onions are seen as inflammation baddies is due to their ph balance. 


Onions are classed as being acidic.


Now the alkaline diet promotes the use of healthy fruits and vegetables.


And our friend, the onion is a healthy anti-inflammatory vegetable. 



Well, although onions are healthy vegetables.  

Onions are unfortunately back on the naughty list.


Arghhh not again!!!


Yep, another list??!!


Onions are on the acidic list as they have a ph level varying between 5 and 5.8 and this is dependent on the type of onion and whether it’s raw or cooked. 


Now onions tip closely towards the alkaline level of 7. And there are many more culprits such as dairy products, meats, poultry and alcohol (to name a few) that are higher!! 


 So if you’re not following a strict alkaline diet, onions could still be a part of your diet!



What to do if you suspect onions are causing an intolerance?

Right, so back to the original question.  Can onions cause inflammation?


Well, I said way way back in this post, that onions are classed as being an anti-inflammatory food.  


So technically they don’t cause inflammation.  


But of course, you now know that some of us can be sensitive, or have intolerances to onions due to issues digesting them. 


So if you’re not sure about them, you need to do some detective work and figure out if onions are an issue for you. 


The best way is to follow an elimination diet. 


With an elimination diet, you would remove onions totally from your diet, probably around 14 days. 

If after removing you feel a huge difference in your symptoms then most likely onions are the culprit.


But remember, the issue isn’t necessarily due to them being inflammatory but instead it’s due to digestion!


So enough with the onion doom and gloom.


Let’s give you some of the good stuff!


Let me tell you about the benefits of eating onions!!


3) What are the benefits of eating onions?


The benefits of eating onions


Vitamin C

Onions contain vitamin C.  Vitamin C is extremely important when it comes to inflammation as vitamin C plays a role in boosting our immune systems.



Quercetin is classed as a polyphenol. Polyphenols are compounds found in red wine, green tea and dark chocolate. 


Oh, and you can also add onions to that list!!


Quercetin has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiviral effects on our bodies.  A diet rich in quercetin is said to provide the body with cancer-fighting properties.




Onions alongside garlic are part of the allium family. 

Alliums are rich in sulfur. 

And sulfur is excellent at balancing cholesterol levels which further benefits circulation and the health of our hearts.

Sulfur is also beneficial for the anti-inflammatory process.

In our bodies sulfur needs to be present for anti-inflammation activities to take place.  







So there it is! 

Onions are not to blame for causing inflammation. 

But when it comes to digestive problems we can possibly blame onions!  

For a lot of people, these digestive issues cause inflammatory like symptoms!  Especially for people who suffer from digestive diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).


The reason why people avoid eating or are cautious about onions is due to:


      • Being a high FODMAPs food
      • Fructan Intolerance
      • Being classed as an acidic food


And although onions are troublesome for many people, it doesn’t mean they need to be avoided. 

You can experiment with them, combining them with other foods (such as low FODMAPs food) and monitor how well you can tolerate them. 

And of course, if you’ve got an allergy (which is rare) or an instant intolerance or sensitivity to onions then you’ll need to remove them.  


Onions are extremely beneficial.

As well as being an anti-inflammatory food, onions are:

      • A source of the immune-boosting vitamin C. 
      • Rich in quercetin an antioxidant
      • Rich in sulfur, great for our cholesterol levels and vital for our bodies to produce anti-inflammatory results!


So instead of blaming the poor ole onion for inflammation, it’s time to embrace it and appreciate its anti-inflammatory qualities!


Would you like more information about inflammation?

If yes, go to the bottom of this post.

You’ll find two images. 

Click on one of the images and you’ll be taken to a page where I have a checklist and tracker that will help you!

About the author

Hello, I’m Cheryl.  I’m a Yoga Teacher and Nutritional Therapist. I provide information to help people who suffer from auto-immune, digestive, hormonal, thyroid and joint-related conditions.  I write on this blog to provide information about nutrition, yoga and movement.

Find out about the anti-inflammatory checklist and tracker


how it could help you!

Click one of the images below!

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